Wednesday, March 2, 2016

When a Room Turns Churlish

I am in the middle of a skirmish with my old furniture. The hostilities began when the man cave's furniture arrived, and the old blue sofa was moved to a space that was empty and echoing: the living room.

The furniture was unbelievably comfortable, if a bit worn, and I was delighted to have a place to sit and read. As days went by, I tried to get a feel for the space.

I am a well known "pillow ho," and I riffled through my stash, looking for bright, cheery fabrics. Naturally I found several. I spent an afternoon trying to make the room cozy.

I dug through the storage room and found a few ornate tables. I had bought them a decade ago in a dusty antique shop. My friend Hannah had found them, and she'd insisted that every room needed a bit of gilt. She was a spry, elderly lady, the kind who grows geraniums from seed and has antiques with a pedigree. Hannah died six years ago. As I dusted the tables, she came back to me. I could hear her tinkling laughter and slow, Tennessee drawl. 

Next, I added a new-ish (but unwise) purchase: a blue and white striped rug that had fared poorly on the screened porch. After it dried, I hauled it to the living room. Except for the rug, everything was old and beloved . . . but the items had never been together in the same room.
I stepped back. How did it look?

The disparate pieces clashed violently, tooth and fang.

The furniture took sides--formal vs. the light, airy stuff.
It was war. 
The gilt table shot furious glances at the rug, and the rug stuck out its tongue at the lamps. The dining room furniture said, "Game on." 

Decades ago, a decorating style wasn't so pigeonholed. Homes were (dare I say it?) more forgiving, more livable. Or perhaps I wasn't paying attention. Now, the eye has been trained to pick out the wrongness of a room. We only have to open a catalog to see what a room expects of us. We are assaulted by images of how we should live, no matter if it breaks the spirit and pocketbook. (Not to mention the body--it can be hazardous to move furniture!)  I was talking to my friend Allison, and I said that I'm happy if the room is clean and not too cluttered. She said she heard me, that she was all over it, too. 

The homeowner must never surrender to a room that whines and begs for the latest trend. She must develop a tough hide and ignore Aunt Sister's comments. (So what if your room is a textbook case of what not to do?) The homeowner must be patient, never making excuses. It's her life, her house, her room. She must look for a common thread, one that binds the wildly different treasures, and if she can't find it, she must pray for the strength to make hard choices--and to lift heavy furniture.

My room seems like a battleground, all of the pieces throwing daggers and spit bombs. What to do. In my hands, color refuses to be a unifying force. Maybe it needs a brave dash of pink? A splash of grounding green? A pile of books on the floor? Perhaps a theme could add harmony, just as long as it isn't arbitrary, just as long as it is organic and filled with me-ness (books, dogs, nature, food). I've got to make this work, because I cannot throw everything out and start over. I wouldn't want to.
But my patience only goes so far.
Room, put away your knives and malice. Talk to me. Where are you going? Can we meet half-way? What do you want to be, Room? Please don't say formal, but if you must, tell me what to do. (And tell me if you'll pay for it?)

When the flying fur settles, maybe I'll call a ceasefire. Maybe the room will magically work. If not, surely I will find a place for the warmongers. What remains should evoke comfort, happiness, and peace. The floral pillows remind me of a summer in England. I like the height and shape of the tables. The size of the rug is fine because it carves a space within a larger space. In fact, I can see several rugs, all mismatched yet compatible. Let's see, what else? 

The wicker chair will be moved to the porch, and the potting shed has put dibs on the little gray-green desk. 

I look beyond the room, at the magical light. It changes from minute to minute. And look how the trees are framed by the bay window. Note to self: hang bird feeders. 

 In today's world, decorating a room has never been easier--or harder. I like to compare it to gardening. You plant, weed, deadhead, transplant, prune, yank up, plant again, fret, and sow seeds. 
In the meantime, you wait. You go off and live your life, and don't forget to dream.


  1. I am so mesmerized by those gorgeous floral pillows that I cannot even see the rest of the furnishings. I actually had to search your photos for each piece of furniture or accessory you mentioned. I am in love with those pillows!

  2. I think it is the rug. Everything else is soft and comfy. The rug is bold and contrasty.

  3. I actually love this look that looks collected and not just a matchy matchy suite bought at the local furniture store. I think the colors work well together and I am your pillow ho sista!

  4. Oh, lookie! I love all of your pieces and the light is gorgeous peering into the windows! You're having fun and it shows! ;)
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia ;)

  5. Oh my, I don't think it is nearly as bad as you think. I am so use to mixing "off" things since that is what I have that it looks good to me. A nice white or off white rug and then you are good. I would also just paint any table I wasn't sure of and go from there.

  6. I like the furniture, tables and lamps that you have placed here. With all the pillows, throws and accessories it looks lovely. I even like the wicker chair and small desk in the space. This looks like a room that has been collected over many years........I don't think it's a problem to have more ornate tables mixed in. The size of the rug is wonderful, just a bit overwhelming in color for the rest of the furniture. Your home is really pulling's very gracious!

  7. I kind of love it the way it is. I feel like the wicker chair really makes it look cottagey! I see your vision for the rugs and I agree, but it's really working (for me, in photos) as is.

  8. I hear you. And you make the war seem so your way with words. I have a mini skirmish going on in my great room...which perhaps anyone else would question its existence. I know what part of my problem is. Too much stuff in the room. But I have pared down to the things I want to keep. And yet...too much stuff. It crowds me. But I seem to like the memories more than the crowding bothers me. ha! You have a wonderful space...and I feel sure that you will win the war with your furniture. :-)

  9. I agree with Teri up above... it's the rug that is not unifying the room. It has a 'porch' look to it. Love the rug, just not in that setting unfortunately. xo

  10. I realize you think the room has problems...I don't see them. With the exception of the rug, I like the room! Looks put together over time...a collected look! I also like that each sitting place, has a table. So very important. Curious to see what the room is telling you...hope that doesn't take too long! ;)

  11. This looks very cottagie to me. The rug sets the tone. I can't help but say that the two new sofas you bought for upstairs would look so great there! The tables would all look good with them and perhaps even the gilt piece! I've always said that when you move to a new home you will be lucky if your things fit in there. So often that happened to us. Different walls, different floor spaces etc. I guess it boils down to how you want the room to feel. That front entry area looks like a dreamy spot for a baby grand piano! A friend of mine bought one that could play on it's own and it was gorgeous. I just love to hear a piano playing relaxing music.

  12. Roberta in OregonMarch 3, 2016 at 2:32 PM

    i love what you are doing with that big room, except the rug. How about a rug with big blossomy flowers, like your pillows? I would put big live plants everywhere. Banana plants, fluffy ferns, big bloomers etc. Hanging baskets? Make it a jungle with a fountain or waterfall. Well, that might be too much. I can see an elegant white standard Poodle curled up on your blue couch. Give it time and the room will come alive.

  13. Your almost there but what you're hearing is your tiredness, just plumb worn out making decisions. The space, the furniture, the accesories are fine; it's the rug that jumps out at you from all the softness. Try a sisal rug underfoot and see what happens. Or a classic Oriental in navy and pinks. Target has some great rugs right now online-just sent one to my daughter.
    You're doing a beautiful job and you've come a long, long way and accomplished so much!

  14. Your room is cozy & comfortable looking. What you might consider is something you as an author will understand. Start with a plan. Just as a novel has main characters, the big seating pieces are the main characters. The tables are your supporting characters, and accessories are the characters who add interest but are not vital to the storyline. This room is lovely but seems more organic rather than deliberate. Think about a design board where you use pictures of furniture you want to use (either already owned or download pictures.) Then maybe place them on a poster board & play with it that way -- less cumbersome than moving actual furniture. I love to see design boards online & have gotten great ideas from them. Go with your gut, but just as in writing, you have to sometimes delete & edit. Good Luck -- your Ranchburger is gorgeous!

  15. Seems to me your big beautiful room is eating up your delightful dainty tables. I like to go big... probably because I'm SO big. Search around and find some big tables, old drop leaf table with one side up beside sofa, square wooden breakfast table for coffee table, unusual finds, big lamps, and huge, just snipped from the garden, arrangements of leaves, flowering fruit tree limbs, etc. And should you feel the need to recover the blue chairs, my favorite color is plaid. But what do I know?

  16. I think the room sings spring/summer! The larger navy trellis pillows make the rug work. The only piece that looks "off" to me is the side table sitting next to the wicker chair—it's the red tone of the wood and the masculinity of the piece. I love the wicker chair there too (though the porch has dibs on it) as it, too, ties into the informality of the rug and seems to say(of the room), "let's not take ourselves too seriously!" It's a cheerful arrangement!

  17. I agree, the rug isn't cutting it. Send it packing on Craigslist if it can't play nice in another space either. Oh the joys of a new place, can drive a woman to wine. Patty/NS

  18. You know, I am liking the pieces you have pulled together, and I am feeling the vibe. The room seems like it would be the perfect spot of curl up with a good book or a chat with friends. My only exception is the rug. What do you think of more of a well-loved oriental? Do you have one in your stash, or maybe you could get lucky at an auction? It makes me laugh, but I think the one in my living room would look great with your pieces. It was a bit of a splurge for me years ago, but I love it.

  19. Love it all but need to lose the rug!!

  20. I think its the rug too, paint the wicker chair get a aqua rug or white j/s with love Janice

  21. I see things differently, I know, but to me the enemies in the room are not the gilt pieces but the tea table and the rug. Call me crazy, but I don't mind the rug at all. It draws your eye, yes. But that is not, in my opinion a bad thing. It balances out the airy quality the room has. The tea table, though - too leggy for the room (it reiterates the open architecture) and too delicate for the rug. My instinct is to ground the seating area with mixture of rug, skirted pieces, low pieces, etc. Your upholstered goods look fine, as do the end tables, because they are light. Unless you love that Virginia horse country look, I personally follow the 'no more than 3 brown pieces" in a room model. This keeps rooms from looking too stodgy or heavy. This room has a relaxed, country house vibe which is quite inviting and suitable to the bones of the house. Think Sister Parish.
    But here is something else to think about: what do you actually want to do in there? Do you want to comfortably relax in a more feminine, light-filled space than the man cave and read, dream, or work on your lap top? Or, does your Southern soul long for a more formal "decorated" place to receive guests? If so, purchase a different rug, go ahead and put the wicker on the porch and do try your upstairs coffee table in this room. It's lower. And, as has been suggested, you could even move your white sofas downstairs. But then - more man cave decisions. Just what you need, right?

    1. Yolie, I would love the room to be a relaxed place to read, drink hot tea, write, a dog sleeping on my feet. The leggy table is normally used as 1) a desk for my laptop and 2) a place to take pictures of food. It's the right height for both. I miss it and look forward to finding a coffee table. The man cave has the formality and English gentleman's club that makes my DH happy, and it is where we will entertain. As for the rest of the house, I would love for it to be informal, happy, cozy, and cottage-like. I am writing down your "no more than 3 brown pieces in a room" model. I love learning things like this!

  22. I like the living room very much. But, I think it's the rug, maybe a soft color would look better.
    Have a great weekend.

  23. Get rid of the renegade rug! That fellow is a troublemaker and the root of the dissension. Sent it make outside and your pretty room will be tranquil. He is a bold upstart in that serene room. Use tough love and kick the bum out.: )

  24. I know you don't like the rug there, but it does anchor the room. Maybe you'll find another one that you like better? I love, love the pillows and the color of the sofa and chairs. Thanks for letting us take a peek at your process. Happy decorating!

  25. I just have to say....I love this room everso! Everything about it...even the rug.
    It is so eclectric and the mix of styles, textures and colors is so pleasing to my eye. But then again, I do not like symmetry or natural boring colors. I think your arrangement is spot on and it looks so cozy in a room full of natural light. I hope you don't change a thing!

  26. Nice writing in this thread of yours. Enjoying it. Must say to the chagrin of many, I like area rugs in a large expanse of lovely wood as you have.

    Another thought for you. As I grow in wisdom (older)I think back to the rooms of my childhood and consider the ones that filled me with comfort and warmth. They were not the ones of my friends mothers who had their rooms designed to a T. Nor my Aunt Blondie who had all new furniture and everything was arranged and placed precisely. But now Aunt Mary's house was different. She had mostly older furniture and a mix of some antiques. Always most interesting pieces of dishes and statues sitting around. Lace doily's on the arms of her over stuffed chairs and sofa. I always thought her home a bit odd but as I think back over the comfort I felt there, her place was and still is the best that my memory can retrieve. Perfection it was not.
    Thanks for sharing your journey. I love your writing. Ahrisha

  27. I loved it all...until the rug was added--sorry, but I'm not a fan. I envision a floral rug here. I'd even leave the wicker chair, but move the table next to it to the man cave. I think shopping your house to put rooms together would be delightful--you have so many lovely things!

  28. I agree with the others. You have so many pretty pieces, but the rug is at a tug of war with the others in that room. Before you know it, you'll have it solved and every piece will "get along" beautifully together. I know you'll find a nice space for the rug soon.

  29. Yep, the rug's the bully. And when he goes, I'd trade out the dark blue pillow for a slightly lighter, with blue-green tones. Keep're headed in the right direction.

  30. I feel your pain. I moved into a mid-century modern in Sept. I love the lines in the house but it is so different from my past homes that I am struggling to make sense of it all. Tiring of my pondering my own home, I am happy to look at yours.

    I think you have already decided the rug will be going. Something with a softer look will work. As I look at the photos I believe that consciously or not you are echoing the look of the gilt framed paintings that are propped by the stairs.
    You even have an arrangement on the coffee table that is almost identical to the one in the painting, the gilt tables, floral pillows and soft colors are all evident in those pictures. Maybe that is your direction. One suggestion I do have is is to possibly change out the lamps. They are a little "airy" and formal for the space. (although I love glass lamps) Something shorter with a bit more visual weight to the base would help anchor the tables.

    I believe that you will create a beautiful room to fit into your beautiful home. Good luck.